TED is Making me Stupid

I love TED. Sometimes perfection presents itself, and all that is required of the interested is to passively accept whatever is on offer. Typically, such a soft effort is limited to the popular arts; music and film proving not only stimulating but readily digested and without a struggle. The same can be said for the daily upload of Ideas Worth Spreading, and no matter if the bite-sized presentations must gloss what is difficult almost by definition.

However, I fear for the TED ideal. It requires a rigorous mind and an abundance of spare time on the part of the viewer to investigate beyond the talk (i.e. buy the book). Single sitting science is fine entertainment, but the lay person must contend with a hodge podge of half understood concepts waging war for cognitive supremacy within the confines of their own brain. Without real expertise in difficult subjects, one can not do better than parrot the opinion of experts, and while I am titillated by minor revelations and inspiring ideas, I find myself growing more cynical about the spread of scientific knowledge and not less.

Watered down science might be worse than no science, at least when it comes to the goal of a “well informed general public.” The TED talk is perfectly analogous to a movie trailer – a teaser designed to present the potential buyer with an idea of what they can expect. The TED lecture is no substitute for genuine inquiry, and yet I suspect the confidence instilled in the general public in their grasp of many a talk is inflated, and I fear that same failing in myself. Either one believes that the 800 pages the science Titan is shilling is superfluous or necessary, and it *is* necessary.

Truth be told, I get a great deal more out of reading a difficult book on one narrow subject (The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker springs to mind) than 100 TED talks. However, the consumable TED lecture might be making me too lazy, confident, and poorly informed to tackle many more Stuffs. TED strikes as typically American in that way.

Robin Lindsay



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4 Responses to “TED is Making me Stupid”

  1. Timothy Sayre Says:

    Your comment on FB for TED intrigued me enough to come read this post.

    I’m not sure someone would not feel the same degree of satisfaction from reading a good book as they could from spending the same amount of time researching a subject of interest on the internets. If it is possible to be disciplined enough to remain narrowly focused on the research topic and not become distracted by the extraneous “noise” on the web then some real value could result. A book allows us the freedom to be solely focused with little distraction. Our own stewardship of focus becomes the denominator for the benefit of outcome.

  2. rockrobinoff Says:

    I didn’t intend to say that internet research couldn’t result in the same level of understanding as consuming a lengthy tome, but that “bite sized” TED talks might lead to inflated confidence in understanding.

    thanks for taking time to read and comment.

  3. rockrobinoff Says:

    that said, i think you make an excellent point with “Our own stewardship of focus becomes the denominator for the benefit of outcome.” and well put i might add.

  4. sarah Says:


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